Yoga turned out to be a way to get people to safely feel their physical sensations and to develop a quiet practice of stillness.
~Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Many years ago in high school P.E. I was introduced to the practice of yoga. I fell in love with it though at the time couldn’t articulate why or what the yoga was doing for me other than noticeably feeling better in my body and mind.
I stuck with it, or rather the yoga stuck with me, and it hasn’t left my side since. Yoga has supported me through various physical and emotional challenges including depression, anxiety, addictive behaviors, trauma, pregnancy and child birth, chronic illness, a broken heart, and an aching body. Yoga offered me the opportunity to befriend my body, and work with my current experience rather than fighting against it. My yoga practice has evolved over the years, and can even shift day to day. Sometimes I simply sit and breathe, other times movement is what I need.
I’m looking forward to joining the Minds in Motion team as a mindfulness based therapist. I can include yoga in sessions if it is something of interest to you. Please do contact me if you’d like more information.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a Sanskrit word which means ‘union”. It’s a mind, body, spirit practice that has been in existence for thousands of years with the intent to support us in healing and uplifting our whole being. Yoga includes, moving, breathing and concentration practices, as well as a consideration of values, and the tendencies of the mind.
Yoga can be practiced in many forms, though perhaps it can be most simply described as kindly paying attention to what’s happening in the moment, including the sensations in our body, how we breathe, move, think, and how we interact with others.
With yoga practice, our awareness increases, the busy mind slows down and we become more able to skillfully and compassionately tend to the needs of our whole being. Yoga doesn’t fix us (we’re not broken) rather it’s an invitation to create a more accepting and compassionate relationship with ourselves and any suffering happening, and in that process there is healing.
Who can practice yoga?
Anyone who is breathing can practice yoga, we don’t have to be on a yoga mat or in a hot room. We don’t have to be able to touch our toes, and we can even do yoga sitting in a chair, or lying in bed.
Yoga can help one become more flexible, though it’s by no means a practice that requires flexibility to begin. Yoga is much more than physical stretching into pretzel like poses. It’s not about how well one does a pose, but instead about the present moment experience, breathing, and an opportunity to cultivate awareness of one’s thoughts and sensations, discipline, acceptance, and compassion- all necessary elements for lasting change.
Yoga is a practice to connect with one’s highest self, and in doing this practice, we inevitably are also connecting to all beings and something greater.
How does yoga help support us in healing trauma:
Following trauma, acute, chronic or complex, the brain and body can continue to react as though trauma is still happening. The nervous system can become dysregulated, and often the body is no longer perceived as a safe place.
Yoga can support us in developing interoception, understanding the sensation and messages of the body, and rediscovering safe places in the body, which can all be used as resources for healing.
Practicing yoga can remind the nervous system how to be flexible. When paying attention to our breath and movement in a deliberate and compassionate way, we learn how to workwith our nervous system rather than feel trapped when the nervous system reacts. When there is an ability to flow productively from fight or flight, action and doing (sympathetic nervous system) to rest, digest, and restore (parasympathetic nervous system) we can begin to feel more grounded, centered, and in the present moment, able to navigate through the dance of life with more grace and ease.
The flexibility of the nervous system, more awareness and interoception has a direct impact on our ability to manage emotions, change unhealthy thought patterns. We can become less reactive to minor stressors, which we may have previously responded to as threats. By becoming aware of our somatic/body experience we can learn to feel the capacity of the situation and respond productively. We can train the body and mind to become less reactive and more present.
Yoga and psychotherapy
There continues to be a growing body of evidence for the therapeutic benefits of practicing yoga to promote health and alleviate psychological symptoms. Yoga tools such as breath work, meditation, and mindfulness of the body can be taught and practiced in a therapy session and then be safely used in daily life.
Practicing Yoga Can:
- Cultivate awareness of the present moment
- Allow one to focus on the body, and a re/connection and trust with the body and it’s wisdom
- Provide an opportunity to exercise choice
- Provide a sense of empowerment over one’s body, thoughts, and actions
- Open one’s awareness, and support nervous system and emotional regulation
- Offer an opportunity to feel grounded, centered and in present time, with access to one’s breath
- Support one in safely discharging traumatic stress
- Cultivate kindness, compassion and acceptance
- Help one learn how to tolerate discomfort
- Build one’s resiliency
- Provide a space to reconnect with sensations in a safe way
Excellent resources for learning more about yoga in a therapeutic setting:
Cristen has a fascination in learning about the inherent wisdom of the body and mind, and has been studying practices such as yoga and meditation for many years. She has a passion in blending time honored practices with western psychology to create a contemporary therapeutic opportunity. Cristen hopes to provide an inviting platform, skillful guidance and compassionate presence to support others in finding their own inherent and healing wisdom within.
Cristen earned a master’s degree in May 2019 from Naropa University in Transpersonal Psychology, Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an emphasis in mindfulness. She is a registered yoga teacher educator with the yoga alliance, 500 ERYT. Cristen offers mindfulness based psychotherapy and individual trauma informed yoga sessions at Minds in Motions. She also teaches weekly public yoga classes in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.